THE ULTIMATE JAPAN SKI TRIP BY TRAIN
Japan is not only the dumping spot for storms, heavy with snow, blowing in from mainland Asia or down from Siberia. It is an incredibly diverse country with a unique culture where no two trips are ever the same.
We have put together the ultimate Nagano ski safari to help you experience the best of the famous JAPOW and immerse yourself in the culture. All on the main Island of Honshu you’ll visit the resort areas of Hakuba, Shiga Kogen and Nozawa Onsen before having an urban adventure in Tokyo and Kyoto.
All these resorts have uniquely different characters so whether you’re looking for steep & deep off-piste skiing, kilometres long immaculately groomed intermediate pistes or the perfect family destination we can use our decades of experience to recommend the best places for you.
Hakuba (4-5 days)
Fly into Tokyo & grab a Japan Rail East Pass - this gives you five days of rail travel - and hop on the morning Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to Hakuba Valley. Situated along a valley in the heart of the Japanese Alps are 10 resorts, well connected by shuttle bus, that give you access to over 200 runs all on the same pass. This huge expanse of terrain offers up an incredible variety for skiers and snowboarders alike. The largest resort in the Hakuba Valley is Happo-One with an impressive average annual snowfall of 11m combined with more bluebird days than Hokkaido ski resorts (like Niseko) making it extremely popular.
Additionally its great for families with plenty of child care facilities and childrens ski lessons given by instructors fluent in English. Our favourite, and Hakuba’s best kept secret is Cortina. It may be the smallest of the 10 resorts but don’t let that fool you, you’ll find amazing tree skiing and steep powder-filled bowls.
Our Top Tip:
Off-piste skiing is limited in most of the Hakuba resorts (apart from Cortina). However the backcountry skiing and split-boarding on offer is truly amazing. We recommend booking a guide to safely show you the delights of shredding metres of light fully snow in the high alpine and amongst the trees. All the while surrounded by the rugged towering peaks of the Japanese Alps.
Shiga Kogen (2-3 days)
After Hakuba, it’s only 2 hours by train to Shiga Kogen gazing at the stunning alpine landscape, passing through tiny farming communities and the forested city of Nagano where you’ll spy ancient temples amongst remnants of the ‘98 Winter Olympics.
Shiga Kogen is one of Japan's most impressive ski resorts with a collection of 21 resorts, of which 19 are interconnected. However It’s not only one of the largest, Shiga Kogen is also the 2nd highest, meaning the snow quality is always good! These resorts offers a seemingly endless variety of long perfectly groomed cruising runs, gentle beginner’s slopes and challenging moguls. For beginners, intermediates & experts the range of on-piste skiing will leave you wanting more. Another plus to the size of the Shiga Kogen area is being able to explore all the uniquely different villages and resort centres by ski or board.
Our Top Tip:
A craft beer festival is held in Shiga Kogen every March, with live music and fireworks it’s a great time of year to visit. With one of the most popular brewery’s carrying the motto, “Flavor in beer, Happiness in people,” you’re guaranteed a good time on and off the slopes.
Nozawa Onsen (3-4 days)
Either on a day trip from Shiga Kogen or on your way to Nozawa Onsen you’d be remiss not to take a slight detour to visit the famous famous Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park to marvel at how these animals have adapted to their wintery home (just make sure not to touch or feed the monkeys!).
Japan’s oldest ski resort, Nozawa Onsen delivers an interesting and traditional Japanese experience with a charming village where narrow cobblestone streets wend their way amongst traditional ryokan inns and shops while steam rises from the abundant hot springs.
Nozowa Onsen is ranked as one of the best ski resorts in Japan, with a wide selection of runs offering great skiing and snowboarding experiences for beginners’ right through to the most advanced. Limited in-bounds off-piste skiing is available but the resort also leaves much of the advanced areas ungroomed to allow for plenty of powder fun!
Our Top Tip:
Every January a giant shrine is set alight in the centre of the village as part of a fire festival dedicated to plentiful harvest, health and good fortune during the year to come. In fact, Nozawa Onsen Fire Festival is one of the top 3 in Japan so make sure to book well in advance! The festival is extremely popular with Japanese & tourists alike.
Tokyo (2-3 days)
To call Tokyo a city doesn't do it justice. Arriving from the slopes you’ll find a sprawling, organic mess of old and new Japan. From sleek futuristic towers rising up into the clouds to humble wooden buildings lit with colourful lanterns and ancient temples hidden amongst leafy parks there are endless discoveries to be made.
When it comes to Japanese cuisine, you’ll find the best of the best in Tokyo. From nondescript Ramen bars to Michelin star restaurants with world renowned chefs, the locals love eating out. So leave your hotel and indulge in some Gyoza, tackle a steaming okonomiyaki and devour trays and trays of Takoyaki.
Visit the fashion capital of Harajuku and the hilariously named (to all visiting westerner’s) Takeshita street for bright & unorthodox Kawaii shop, big-name international retailers and a treasure trove of vintage outlets. Other must see locations include the bars and clubs of Shinjuku, incredible sprawl of the famous fish markets and the imposing Imperial Palace.
Our Top Tip:
Trying to take in an explore a city with a population of around 37 million can be a little overwhelming. Over 3 million people a day pass through Shinjuku train station! Luckily, Yoyogi park is a leafy green oasis of calm amongst the bustling neighbourhoods of Harajuku & the madness of Shibuya.
Extend Your Stay
To extend your stay take the bullet train south from Tokyo to the old Imperial Capital, Kyoto, famous for its many temples. Or perhaps head past Kyoto to the bright & trendy Osaka and onto the friendly city of Hiroshima to take in its moving message of peace.